Stacking shelves won’t help career progression
Over the last week, we have seen a series of dodgy manoeuvres by the government regarding unpaid retail work experience. All actions that have left me like many others, seriously questioning firstly, their ethics and secondly, how far they are removed from reality.
Due to the severe backlash by protesters, Tesco have now agreed to pay all their ‘work experience’ employees on the governments Back to Work scheme; I still have qualms though. Many other retailers have also pulled out of the scheme including Superdrug, Sainsbury’s, Waterstones and TK Maxx. However, what is shocking is that these decisions didn’t come via a government epiphany that realised not all work experience is valuable, but rather PR damage control from retail giants.
Unemployment in the UK now stands at 2.67 million with youth employment at 1.04 million. Undoubtedly there is a problem. However, getting young people, who Nick Clegg believes are ‘sitting at home’, to stack shelves for free is going to do absolutely nothing for their morale and career progression. Working for free in retail is simply not the same as obtaining a placement in parliament, the media or finance. Having worked both in the media and retail, I can confirm that the two industries are poles apart. Due to the nature of retail, I was able to get a part time job whilst still in sixth form. Within weeks, I knew how to do everything my job entailed including using the tills, replenishing stock and tidying the shop floor. As harsh as it sounds, these jobs are called unskilled for a reason. Unlike jobs in parliament, the media or finance, the initial training period is very short; you are expected to quickly be on par with other weathered staff who know the shop inside out. That said, does the Tesco’s scheme really need to be a 4 weeks stint?
Whilst working in retail, personally I was spoken to like scum by both the staff and customers. I was treated incredibly badly by my manager and this was also the case for many of my young/student colleagues. The tasks expected of me were usually incredibly monotonous (size ordering the stockroom/spacing hangers on the shop floor). As a result the low pay and bad treatment wasn’t enough to keep a large number of my colleagues; the turnover rate was practically that of a revolving door. I soon realised I was the longest standing employee (except management) after just four months. For the hard working unemployed graduate and even non-graduate with alternative career ambitions, the scheme could ultimately be demoralising, thus defeating the point.
By no means do I stand here as an advocate of media, political or finance work experience which are only really taken advantage of by the middle classes (I believe Chris Grayling Smiths calls us job snobs), however, the government’s attempt to convince people that these retail placements are worthwhile is ludicrous. We get equally annoyed when interns are only paid expenses to fill actual posts in professional industries, (Nick Clegg has in the past spoken out against the social damages of unpaid internships), so why is this any different?
These schemes will be aimed at some, but not others. Would any cabinet members advise their children to work for only JSA in retail? I’m speculating, but I think not. I also don’t think their children are waiting to be discovered on X Factor, making Ian Duncan Smith’s point in the Daily Mail about the nature of the unemployed youth rather bizarre. As the majority of the cabinet would have never worked in retail, they have no concept of what working there for free would ask of someone. Like all government policies, they receive more credibility if the people who initiate them have at some stage implemented them.
The ultimate purpose of doing a work placement is to increase skills, and hopefully end up in employment. Iain Duncan Smith mentioned in his article that 300 individuals from a total of 1400 on the Tesco ‘work experience’ were now in employment. This is not an overwhelming success. As I stated before, retail work is unskilled making the nature of the work experience in no way beneficial to some recipients. Retail trainee management programme? Yes. Unskilled, ‘workware’/slave labour work placement? No.Tagged in: jobs, tesco, umemployment, work experience, work placement
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